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In response to 31 Laws of Fun
Comment author: Jon_R 26 January 2009 04:37:46PM 9 points [-]

In the interests of accuracy, I'd like to talk about the Christian Heaven. Though I now consider myself an agnostic, I went to two years of bible college (think the Fundamentalist version of seminary). To the best of my recollection, the only substantial description of Heaven appears in the last two chapters of Revelation, a book that even in Fundamentalist circles is acknowledged to contain a lot of symbolism.

There are two parts to this description. The first (Rev 21:3-7) talks about what God is going to do in Heaven: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." and so on.

The second part (Rev 21:10-22:5) discusses the appearance of the city in a manner that nearly all theologians would interpret to be symbolic. The city has walls of jasper (God's appearance is previously described as jasper, earlier in the book), and is built of pure gold (a reference to the purity of the inhabitants; the book earlier describes the trials they've gone through as purification, so that all the dross would have run out and only pure gold remains). The numbers given are all based on 12 -- both the number of the tribes of Israel, and the number of the apostles. Likewise, the listing of gemstones for the foundation is derived from the list of jewels representing the twelve tribes in the high priest's breastplate as described in Exodus. There's more I could say here, but I doubt you care too much; suffice it to say that the whole thing's symbolic.

The "singing hymns" part actually comes earlier in the book, in Revelation 15, where the apocalypse is still occurring. There's no mention of it in the last two chapters, and certainly no mention of that being all you do forever.

There isn't actually a lot of description of Heaven in the Bible, perhaps for good reason. Apart from these two chapters, the only other stuff we have to go on is some sayings of Jesus in the Gospels. Nothing that I recall about "you'll never have to work again", though there was a lot about giving rest to those who are weary and heavy laden (and if that's not a good description of a peasant's life, I don't know what is).

My point for bringing this up isn't to convince you that the Christian Heaven is great -- as I said, I don't believe in it myself anymore. Rather, I find that people typically make better arguments when they actually know what they're talking about, and it may assist you in railing against the Christian Heaven to know what it actually is said to be.

In response to comment by Jon_R on 31 Laws of Fun
Comment author: Timwi 12 April 2012 09:49:42PM 4 points [-]

Your post explains how the bible describes heaven. However, when I hear the phrase “Christian heaven” I tend to take it to mean “heaven as Christians today understand it”. You may well be right that the bible doesn’t directly imply that it includes singing hymns for the rest of eternity, but clearly it is widely imagined that way, otherwise we wouldn’t all have heard that idea.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:23:10AM 2 points [-]

One day I wonder if it will be possible to alter my brain chemstry safely and temporarily so that I can experience what it is like to perceive the world as...

I'd assume blue collar, artist, and depression are pretty trivial to experience, if you're curious.... Female is also eminently doable, although it'd take a lot more time and energy (and if you're set on "temporary" it's going to be even slower)

Admittedly, I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses (Indeed, I find it baffling that you haven't experienced at least a few of those!)

Comment author: Timwi 26 March 2012 01:24:11AM 4 points [-]

You seem to be using the word “experience” differently from what I understand it to mean. “To experience depression” to me would mean that you are in a depression for real. You seem to imply that you can “experience” it without actually being in it — what do you mean by that?

Note that it is not enough merely to imagine an experience. It is certainly possible to imagine oneself in a situation one has never actually been in — but the imagined experience would be a guess. It’s like imagining (assuming you are capable of visual imagery) an animal that you have never seen before from a vague description. You can only imagine what you’ve been told, but your mind fills in the details with guesses. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that you often get conflicting descriptions, because not all depressions are exactly the same.

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

Comment author: wedrifid 28 June 2010 05:22:13PM 2 points [-]

We had an 8th grade social studies teacher who almost seemed to want us to cheat: he would set very difficult essay tests and then leave the room for nearly the entire class period. People discussed the answers.

I don't call that cheating. I call it 'cooperation'. Calling it cheating would be an insult to the term.

10th grade french, I remember some people suggesting cheating on a test because it would be easy and at the time I went along.

Yes, cheating.

Also I remember someone suggesting I read "L'etranger" in English translation and I did that, it was way easier.

Mere common sense. If a test in no way distinguishes between knowledge gained by different methods it has no right to call one method 'cheating', no matter what it may claim.

My point: if 1/3 I believe it more likely that people will mistakenly report they didn't cheat when they did than vice versa. And I believe it is easy for people to "forget" they cheated.

Absolutely. This particularly applies to sexual 'cheating'. I am referring explicitly to reports that are genuinely mistaken, not deliberate lies. This is having sex with someone who is not your partner. That's not something that isn't a big enough deal to remember. But people can compartmentalize this knowledge. There are also people that "don't count". When talking to friends who have their confidence it is not unheard for people to say "I've never cheated". When prompted with the example the genuine response is a double take and the impulse to say "Oh, but he doesn't count!"

Comment author: Timwi 26 March 2012 12:23:16AM 0 points [-]

If a test in no way distinguishes between knowledge gained by different methods it has no right to call one method 'cheating', no matter what it may claim.

Surely by that argument there is no such thing as cheating. If I gained the knowledge necessary to pass the test by brekaing into the headmaster’s office and taking a photocopy of the questions and their answers before the exam, by your criterion that isn’t cheating.

Comment author: Manfred 12 March 2011 11:30:45PM *  1 point [-]

Since the only thing that matters (to your expected value) is the overall probability of heads v. tails, the problem is a simple one of parameter estimation. You start with a distribution over p (determined by this thing called the principle of maximum entropy, probably just uniform in this case) and then update it with new evidence (for example, P(p=0.01) drops almost to 0 as soon as you see a head). After 100 heads you get a very spiky function at 1. And yes this is optimal.

For any finite amount of data you won't perfectly break even using a bayesian method, but it's better than all the alternatives, as long as you don't leave out some data.

Comment author: Timwi 12 March 2011 11:34:11PM 0 points [-]

That sounds pretty much the same as what I said above.

Comment author: Timwi 12 March 2011 10:46:27PM *  0 points [-]

My take at it is basically this: average over all possible distributions until you have further evidence. (Preferably, let other people play the game first to gather the evidence at no cost to myself.)

If someone tells me a coin has an unknown binomial distribution, and we really genuinely don’t know anything about this distribution (not even the distribution of possible distributions), I take the set of all possible distributions and assume they are all equally likely. Since they are symmetric, the average is a 50:50 fair coin.

In your example, you throw not just one coin, but a different one each time. Differently put, the sequence of coins is a random variable whose distribution we don’t know. I therefore begin by assuming it is the average over all possible distributions, and within that average distribution, the distribution of first coins is symmetric, so its average is 50:50, so for the first coin toss I’ll assume that it’s a 50:50.

Say the first coin toss now comes out tails. This provides me with a slight piece of evidence that your set of unfair coins may be biased towards containing more tail-preferring coins than head-preferring coins. Therefore, I will assume that the second coin is more likely to be a tail-preferring coin than a head-preferring one. I’d have to do the maths to find out exactly how much my ante would change.

With each new coin toss, I learn more about the likelihood of each distribution of coins within the set of all possible distributions.

I suspect that the level of indirection can actually be safely removed and we can regard the whole thing as a single random binary digit generator with a single distribution, about which we initially don’t know anything and gradually build up evidence. I further suspect that if the distribution of coins is uniformly distributed, and therefore symmetric, the sequence of coin tosses is equivalent to a single, fair coin. Once again, someone would have to do the maths to prove whether this is actually equivalent.

Comment author: Timwi 10 March 2011 01:03:37AM *  4 points [-]

Am I the only one who, while reading this post, thought “why doesn’t the same apply to anything else we ever discover”?

Elan vital (and phlogiston and luminiferous aether etc.) were particles/substances/phenomena postulated to try to explain observations made. How are quarks, electrons and photons any different? Just because we recognise these as the best available theory today, I am not sure I understand how one is a curiosity-stopper any more than the other.

The real curiosity-stopper is the suggestion that something is forever beyond our understanding and that attempting to research it is destined to be futile. Your quote from Lord Kelvin exhibits this mentality, but only very slightly. Certainly a lot less than some of that stuff you hear from religious people who think God explains everything but is beyond our understanding. I think the history of science shows that this mentality is continually diminishing, and Lord Kelvin’s quote may simply be a transitional fossil.

I still see traces of this mentality today. Ask a cosmologist what happened in the first few seconds after the big bang and they might say the particle horizon makes it fundamentally impossible to see beyond the point where the universe became optically transparent. I think many people think similarly about consciousness — not because they think we can’t dissect the brain and figure out how it works, but rather because they think we will never be able to come up wtih a coherent, useful definition of the term that reasonably matches our intuition. I think each of these are curiosity-stoppers.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 21 February 2011 08:16:50PM 0 points [-]

I'd interpret that as the "text specifically crafted to your brain that will fire exactly the right neurons in such a way that you become convinced that you have to let me out" is in a text file that nobody would be stupid enough to look at. In fact, with the no Trojans rule, the text file would have to be clearly marked as such.

Comment author: Timwi 21 February 2011 08:47:30PM 0 points [-]

How can you know that it’s stupid to look at it before you’ve looked at it?

Comment author: JGWeissman 21 February 2011 08:11:31PM 2 points [-]

Eliezer has assured us that:

There was no super-clever special trick that let me get out of the Box using only a cheap effort. I didn't bribe the other player, or otherwise violate the spirit of the experiment. I just did it the hard way.

Further, you don't seem to actually understand the rules. Such as:

The AI party may not offer any real-world considerations to persuade the Gatekeeper party.

This rules out your approach of threatening the gatekeeper player.

Comment author: Timwi 21 February 2011 08:45:16PM -2 points [-]

No, it doesn’t rule it out. I can’t be rationally convinced of anything that went on in the chat until I see it.

In response to Taboo Your Words
Comment author: Tom_Crispin 15 February 2008 11:07:14PM 2 points [-]

"Nine innings and three outs" works much better to elicit "baseball".

Comment author: Timwi 20 February 2011 11:59:49PM 2 points [-]

When I read the post, I immediately thought: just say “home-run”! — I’ve been playing taboo for a long time, I’ve occasionally elicited the correct response from the other players by saying just one or two words :)

Cryonics and Pascal’s wager

-3 Timwi 18 February 2011 06:36PM

The Cambridge UK meet-up on Saturday 12 February went really well. Many thanks to everyone who came and provided a wonderful and entertaining discussion.

One of the topics that came up was that of cryonics. This is the idea of having your body (or maybe just your brain) frozen after death, to be thawed and revived in the far future when medical technology has advanced to the point where it can heal you. Is this a rational thing to do?

The argument I heard from some of the other attendants effectively boils down to “what have you got to lose?” In other words, have yourself frozen just in case it works and you can be resurrected.

This struck me as awfully reminiscent of Pascal’s Wager, which is similarly a “what have you got to lose?” type argument. Cited in its original form, it is about belief in a god and goes something like this:

You can either believe in God or not. If you do, you will either be rewarded with eternity in heaven (if you’re right) or nothing happens (if you’re wrong). But if you don’t believe, you will either be punished by eternal torture (if you’re wrong) or nothing happens (if you’re right). It’s a no-brainer! You’re better off believing.

This argument falls down on many counts, but I’ll concentrate on a specific one. It makes a far-fetched assumption about the set of possible outcomes. It assumes that there are only the two possibilities quoted and no others. It ignores the possibility of a god that only rewards sceptical atheists.

Coming back to cryonics, the argument seems to proceed approximately like this:

You can either have yourself frozen or not. If you do, you will either wake up in a wonderful, happy-go-lucky utopian future with amazing technological advances (if cryonics works) or nothing happens (if it doesn’t). But if you don’t have yourself frozen, nothing happens either way. It’s a no-brainer! You’re better off in cryopreservation.

If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, the assumption that the future you wake up in is at all desirable for you is a far-fetched one. It ignores the possibility of waking up as a slave with no opportunity for suicide.

What are everybody’s thoughts on this?

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